A few months ago we noted the significant persecution facing religious minorities in India under its current government. There we observed that the persecution of Christians and Muslims and social hostilities towards these minority religious groups has been well documented since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in May 2014. According to World Watch Research (WWR) “the level of religious persecution of Christians has gone up dramatically” (1). So it is also the case for devotees of Islam as hardline government supporters have been rampaging through New Delhi hunting Muslims over the last few days.
According to news reports, mobs were going through majority Muslim neighbourhoods in north-east New Delhi, attacking individuals, burning homes, businesses, and places of worship. Material released on Twitter shows violence as footage evidences assaults, burning buildings, and bleeding people being dragged through the streets. Even a mob of policemen and locals can be seen surrounding a group of injured civilians whom are poked with clubs. They demanded the men sing a patriotic song as they record the scene on their phones. A video online shows Hindu extremists climbing a mosque and pulling down its loudspeaker. They then hung a flag depicting the Hindu deity Hanuman. Witnesses say that this spate of violence has emerged from pro-government hardliners who have targeted Muslims, journalists, civil society activists, and anyone viewed as an opponent to their far-right Hindu nationalism (2). However, there have also been reports of violence from Muslim groups (3). In another instance, a survivor saw an armed group of about 100 people approaching his home while chanting “Jai Shree Ram.” This slogan, which means “Hail Lord Ram”, is a war cry for Hindu nationalists. Further reports from Reuters correspondent Devjyot Ghoshal is that the Delhi police seemed to encourage Hindu mobs to attack Muslims with rocks and even stood by as the mob lit vehicles on fire (4). Elsewhere police have refused to intervene to stop attackers. Apparently a mob was led by Kapil Mishra, a minister representing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who confronted protesters that his supporters would forcibly remove them as soon as Trump left. U.S. President Donald Trump paid a two-day visit to the country and also praised Modi despite this violence happening in the background.
This violence is a retaliation to protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act that was passed in December. This law creates a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants from three neighboring majority Muslim countries, as long as they aren’t Muslim. Protesters taking exception to this law in India see this as an effort by the Hindu nationalist government to undermine the status of the 200 million Muslims in the country and to redefine India as a primarily Hindu nation. This comes just after Modi’s government stripped the country’s only majority Muslim state, Kashmir, of its autonomy.
These events must be seen in light of what we previously reported from the WWR, who have shown huge concern that over the past few decades there has been a sharp decrease in the level of religious tolerance in India (5). Traditionally, Hinduism used to be regarded as peaceful, but since the 1990s has taken on a much more violent character leading to a lack of tolerance for dissent, minorities, and religious and cultural diversity. A substantial part of the Indian population sympathizes with authoritarian leadership which does not shy away from imposing its will on opponents by violent means. Modi had a bad reputation for ignoring atrocities committed by Hindu fanatics when he was Chief Minister of the Gujarat State in 2002, in which hundreds (if not thousands) of Muslims died in pogroms. Since May 2014 the level of intolerance in India has increased and hundreds of violent incidents have been recorded per year.
What is concerning is that the BJP is seemingly turning India’s secular constitution into a Hindu nationalist one, which cannot be said to represent all Indians as not all Indians are Hindus. The BJP promotes a nationalist ideology and clearly wants to establish India as a Hindu nation. In this latest spate of violence 27 people have been confirmed dead, with many, many more injured (6).
1. World Watch Research. 2019. India: Country Dossier. p. 8
2. Hume, Tim. 2020. Hindu Nationalist Mobs in India Are Hunting and Beating Muslims. Available.
3. Hume, Tim. 2020. Ibid.
4. Mackay, Robert. 2020. Trump Praises Modi’s India, as Muslims Are Beaten on the Streets and a Mosque Is Defiled. Available.
5. World Watch Research. 2019. Ibid. p. 5
6. India Today. 2020. Delhi violence Updates: Death toll rises to 27 as LNJP hospital reports 2 deaths. Available.